Being ‘Opportunity Aware’ as a Teacher

As an entrepreneur, you’re almost unconsciously on the hunt for new opportunities.  An almost cliché refrain in entrepreneur circles is “where others see problems, entrepreneurs see opportunities.”  After all, successful business development stems not just from a great idea, but also a great opportunity.  For entrepreneurs this can take many forms: fulfilling an unmet need, leveraging popular trends, improving on an existing product or service, or inventing a new product or service.  I often discussed taking advantage of trends with high school entrepreneurs; the iPod trend really resonated with teenagers.  Think of the myriad businesses that have either a) leveraged the trend of the iPod or b) created a whole new business centered on the tremendous use of the iPod.  This proved to be a really instructive example for my students.  Prior to attaching ‘opportunity’ to entrepreneurship, students simply thought creating a business centered on having an idea.  “I want to start a club because I like going to the club” or “I like fashion so I want to design custom t-shirts.”  The key was to get them to understand that the strongest businesses come not just from an idea, but an idea that is paired with an opportunity.

As teachers we can follow many of the same entrepreneurial maxims to make our classrooms a better place.  When planning a lesson, or even a unit, are we simply planning based on our ideas or are we using both ideas and opportunities.  Can we pair our ideas with a ‘hot trend’?  Does our lesson fulfill an unmet need (perhaps a learning style or skill we’ve been neglecting)?  Have we invented something new in this lesson or unit that uses our unique knowledge of this specific class or are we using ‘stock’ material?  You get the picture…

The paragraph above represents taking advantage of opportunity in the ‘planning phase’ of class, but there is a much harder time to take advantage of opportunity: in the class itself, on the fly.  Obviously, this requires a dynamic mindset permitting us to veer off course.  I struggle with this almost everyday.  I would come prepared to class with (what I thought) an amazing lesson plan, only to see the class get hooked on a theme that was merely tangential to my plan.  As someone who is pretty ‘opportunity aware’ this would be both frustrating and exciting.  Sometimes I would do nothing with that insight except file it away.  Other times I would immediately leverage this opportunity and use this insight to reach my objectives for the rest of the unit.  I recognize that, as teachers, we cannot take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself in class, but being ‘opportunity aware’ can mean a tremendous amount, if only for being a ‘tuned in’ teacher.  I finally realized that whether or not I stuck with my plan, the class or student was implicitly telling me something about how they learn (and what they wanted to learn about).

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